Another bizarre but entertaining dream… Swiss Octopi, anyone?

I found it very difficult to wake up this Monday morning simply because I was having such a fantastic, non-school-related dream and I wanted to see how it played out. (This often happens — awesome and interesting dreams that I want to stay in to see how they end — but I tend to forget to write them down.)

In my dream, I travelled to Switzerland with a friend of mine, a colleague who retired from teaching a few years ago. Not sure why I was going there but I think it had to do with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or perhaps scouting for a potential school trip. Anyway it was lovely: the scenery, the colours, a small boutique store in which I was looking for hand-made souvenirs for the family (I was having trouble picking between carved figurines, cooking spices, candles and such), an organic farm providing not only fresh produce but tours for butterfly watchers (they were closed for maintenance, sadly), and then I remembered that I hadn’t switched my phone from roaming. Eeek! The charges! I checked my phone and fortunately, I’d turned off the function so I wouldn’t get charged for using long-long-long distance to update my social media feeds, but that meant I’d have to find another way to post my cool travel pics. I especially wanted to post pics of carved garden gnomes. There were a few of them, although the Swiss people I asked didn’t seem to think that their presence was significant. Wrong country, I guess.

Anyway, I realized that my phone’s charge was getting dangerously low, so I went asking around for a charger. That turned into being taken on a tour of a carnival in a little village nestled in a valley, with a shallow river or lake winding through the cobblestone streets. It was very cool, although there were a lot of the same attractions I’d seen in another place: a grotesque masked club that was part dancing, part haunted house; t-shirt sales with tie-dyed and cartoony designs; balloon animals; a booth with gnomes. The attendants were fun and flirty but harmless. I noticed that fish were flapping about on the surface of the water, darting into the air to catch insects for their meals, but it was really hard to get pictures of them on my iPhone. I went closer to the edge of the pool and saw that the water was beautifully clear (probably due to being glacier-fed), and I could see a little brown octopus flitting about, chasing fish, and there was a manta ray as well. The fish were flying in the air to escape the octopus, I could see. I took pictures of that, too. A dog splashed into the water and had to be rescued before he became a meal for the octopus. Then I really needed to recharge my phone so I went back to my new friend’s house.

That’s where the kidnapping happened.

I don’t really know what happened to my travelling companion. She’d gone back to the B&B, I think. So I was alone with this girl and her very accommodating family. The house was sweet, cottage-like, and they offered me soup and tea. But I got creeped out by their suggestions of joining their family and marrying one of their sons — I tried to explain that I was already married and had children and a husband waiting for me to return home. They kept smiling at me and I realized that they’d drugged the tea. I refused to drink it, but I passed out anyway, having eaten the soup which had also been drugged. (At this point the matriarch looked at the camera being held by a documentary crew that was following me around and explained that she’d drugged the soup just to make sure they had me. Yeah, and the crew didn’t do anything to stop her. Told you this was bizarre!)

So then I woke up all disoriented and bleary, in the middle of a strange wedding ceremony involving being draped in a white fur cloak and paraded to different parts of town and drinking spiced wine from a bowl. I was partway through a circular route, at the end of which I would be married. I knew my travelling companion had raced home to let my husband know that I was in trouble, but I still struggled to get away and I ended up in the water. Just as the octopus was about to get me, someone grabbed it and wrestled it away. I got out of the pool, freezing and gasping, and turned around to see my husband — wait, that’s not him, that’s Spencer from iCarly, what the heck?!? — throwing the octopus deeper into the lake. He’d come to rescue me!

Plus, he was shirtless. Interesting. I looked closer. He was very skinny. Less interesting. Some ab definition, though, and a hint of pectorals. More interesting!

Now we were in a museum/art gallery, trying to shake off the creepy family. More gnomes. Pieces for sale — no, don’t get distracted by shopping for souvenirs, you have to get home! Spencer and I were trying to work out a plan, and then I actually woke up.

Damnit. I woke up! How did it end?!? Did I get away from the creepy family? Why was Spencer there? What was with all the garden gnomes? So weird… I almost want to go back to bed to try to pick up where I left off, but that never works.

I could sit and analyze the crap out of this, but for now, I bask in its weirdness.

No, teachers don’t sleep at school like bats. And, a poem!

Went out to get a very-late-night supper for the family (trying to see my lapse in “schedule” as delightfully bohemian) and spotted some of my current and former students sitting in Tim Horton’s. Chatted with the latter (thoroughly enjoyed the rolling of eyes and slumping into chair at my approach) and walked over to the former, who did not see me at first but looked around as though suddenly uncomfortable. When two of them noticed me at last, looming up behind, one remarked, “Geez, I was wondering why I suddenly felt like I was back in English class.” I laughed, “What did you feel the cold chill running up your spine?” The other responded, “Yeah, but we weren’t supposed to feel that for another two weeks.” “Don’t you sleep at the school?” Chimed in the first. Hardy-har-har. Good times!

And now, a poem:

Just three nights before Christmas, (’twas Solstice in fact),

And all through the house the children were crack’d.

Screaming like banshees, running upstairs and down,

Rampant play-fighting, pillows smacked on their crowns.

Dishes lay undone from supper, lunch, breakfast;

Wrapping paper strewn over presents amassed.

Price tags scratched poorly from plastic vacuum-formed,

Ripped bits of scotch tape littering hardwood floor.

When out in the kitchen there rang the wall-phone,

I debated pretending no-one was home.

Away from the tv I slogged with my wine,

Nearly knocked over twice by those children mine.

Loud voices all chorused right when I answered,

From both the phone and my offspring so hyper,

When what in my over-wrought ears did I hear

Six more people will come to dinner this year?

Just little more shopping should do the trick,

A Timelord could do it, and so could St. Nick.

But I gazed at the mess and against the wall sagged,

Gazing blearily at my kids through eyes bagged:

“Now daughter! Now son!

Let’s get to cleaning up!

On vacuum! Do mopping!

Garbage picked and dust cropped!

Write labels for the gifts!

Your playtime is over!

Pretend it’s a photo spread

For a magazine cover!”

Greeting cards flew before whirling brooms and bags,

Animals fled from the snapping of wet rags

We attempted some resemblance of order

Like two Hobbits finding their way through Mordor.

First the clutter: fliers and used envelopes

For listing priorities like getting soap.

Then puzzle pieces, markers, glue and felt bits

Swept into a basket and cleverly hid.

Random socks and hairbrushes, lint and dog hair,

Charging cords, fast-food wrappers, crap everywhere.

In the midst of nonsense, gift wrapping going on,

Turn off the TV; Mom’s productive with songs.

The lamps! How they sparkled! The dust wiped clean away!

The floors clear of debris at least for one more day!

I wondered, how long can I make this clean last?

After all, the mess always returns way too fast.

If Santa showed up tonight all would be well

Visitors tomorrow? Welcome! Ring the bell!

But THREE days of clean to be had, in a row?

The kids stared at my laughter, much concerned now.

We could go to Grandma’s, I thought with some cheer,

Until I remembered — she’s going to come here!

Refilled my wine glass with a sigh as I grieved,

Knowing we’ll have to clean again Christmas Eve.

But our house is warm and snug, that’s got some pull;

It’s lived in and comfy, though cluttered and full.

No magazine spread, nor model home is it,

All visitors welcome, just move stuff to sit!

Good impressions aside, this season’s about life,

Conversation and games, forget stress and strife.

“Off to bed, kids!” Peace finally arrives here.

Quiet joy in the longest night of the year.

(Based on “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore)

I survived another school play!

Over the last three or four weeks, I’ve been stressing and worrying and enjoying and laughing my way through what I believe to be my 20th high school production for the public, as an educator. While I’m glad that it’s over, I’m also a little sad. It was so much fun to work with students who enjoyed what they were doing, to bring the play to various locations in our little town (three schools, a long-term care facility, and the LaSalle Theatre) — in spite of the headaches, angst, and schedule juggling, I was reminded of how much I truly love doing theatre. It’s easy to see how some can devote their lives to slogging through the process in off-off-Broadway venues, living hand-to-mouth for the sake of the art. It’s as enthralling as it is exhausting. And now that this performance is over — I posted the video of the final performance on YouTube, if you’d like to see: — and I start to put away props and costumes, I half-wonder what to do with myself now.

I’ve got the usual list of chores and required tasks; I’ve got books to read and edit (looking forward to those!), marking to complete (always interesting to see what the students have to say), laundry to catch up on again (never really did get on that after finishing NaNoWriMo), and holiday preparations to make. I haven’t even started my Christmas cards, or wrapping presents. Thank heaven for online shopping, or else I wouldn’t have that done, either, although only half of the gifts I’ve ordered have arrived . . .

The final week of school before the break approaches as I write this. Hours away. I should be sleeping. The trouble is that the last week is very low on focus: we’re all tired, drained, ready for some relief from the daily routines, exhausted by the dark and the cold, and seeking distraction through present shopping, parties, choirs, holiday assemblies, etc. When I was a first-year teacher, I was bound and determined to teach every single class left this week, up to the minute. Thirteen years on, I still would like to use the time. Experience has taught me that the ideal and the reality are often very different things, though . . . At the very least, everyone needs to get in their independent novel studies by the end of the week. No homework over the break, except for the rounds of marking and editing…

Imagine, though, if high schools in Ontario started their school years in mid-August, when there is already a coolness to the air, and had exams in December like the colleges do, ending the semester with a two-week break. I can already anticipate the rush and stress of wrapping up the courses I have in those three weeks after the holidays, marking exams and culminating activities in a hurry while prepping for second semester in a matter of days. What would happen if January started as a fresh semester instead? And if we ended our year at the beginning of June, just when the weather is turning hot? Or if we adopted the system of 6 weeks on, two weeks off, year-round? This is such a long stretch, from Hallowe’en to Christmas (or Samhain to Yule, if you prefer), mentally and physically draining — it’s no wonder that the last week of school is sometimes just a write-off, a festival of in-class “film studies” and assemblies. We do try to get things done, but there is only so much a human being can take. I know I passed my limit some time ago, and that was even without the play.

My husband had suggested to me that I not do a play at all, seeing how tired I was from the pressures at work, but I chose to keep going because it was a positive, affirming activity that got me working with students who wanted to do good things. Kids who were willing to make the effort to bring something awesome to this community, reaching out to the young and the old. Being able to do that makes the rest of it much more bearable. I can’t not do extracurriculars — they are my salvation on rough days in the classroom, even if they wipe me out at the same time.

1 am. I will go to bed, try to sleep although I know how hyper the teenagers will be tomorrow and that it’s going to be both a slow and fast week. I didn’t make it to my staff Christmas party (was doing the play), and I haven’t heard of a Secret Santa gift exchange, and that’s too bad. But there are other things to look forward to, including the staff-student basketball game. I’ve decided to play this year, using my usual dirty technique of simply falling upon passing players like a tree in the forest. Maybe I’ll even bring some props this time . . .

The trouble is that when I’m up late, I can ignore the darkness of the day because I’m ensconced in the womb of the night. So much quieter, more peaceful, easier to think and sort and read. One week to go, and then the break, which will fly by as it always does. I’ll try to fill it with creative activities, too.

Good night.

Meditating on Theatre: Performances For and By the Community, and the Family, plus a bit on the meaning of A Christmas Carol

I wanted to do a post about the psychology of Haunted Houses at the end of October (as in, paid events / activities, rather than dwellings that are said to be occupied by ghosts), but of course, I didn’t get around to it. I put a pin in it until next year. But it’s occurred to me now and again, and particularly this weekend, how much theatre surrounds us at so many moments in our lives. People who go to Haunted Houses are seeking thrills, cathartic moments of excitement and rushes of adrenaline, both from the action of observing the performers and from seeing their friends getting scared. One’s company in a Haunted House becomes just as much a part of the theatre as the scenes they pass by. It’s that way among friends in other settings, too.

All that theatre does — and that’s a big “all” — is formalize something we already do. It reflects how we feel, larger than life, to make us aware and capable of understanding it. It clearly delineates the difference between audience and actors, but that line is so flexible, it’s around us all the time.

Example: my daughter’s ninth birthday yesterday. The party was simple, two girls plus herself, and I gave them a home spa experience. It was while I was carrying out the cake that I was reminded how much a birthday party is theatre. The guests are part of the ritual but observe it at the same time. They’re watching each other as they don the facials and cucumber slices, giggling and commenting on the experience, sharing their discoveries. It’s a play as much as an activity, however informal it might be. They’re the audience for each other, performing while relaxed. I know this because I watched my daughter’s reactions to the live production of A Christmas Carol performed at our local theatre this afternoon, and her delight in the play was as pure and entire as it had been to watch her bestie peeling honey facial stuff from her cheeks.

My head jumps from topic to topic. I thought about these even as I enjoyed the show this afternoon, watching the skilled actor Shane Patrick McClurg adapt his performance ever so slightly to avoid alienating a frightened child in the audience (how often we forget that Dickens originally wrote his tale as a ghost story), the subtle shifting between characters as played by that one actor, and the range of emotions portrayed by the incredible Michael Rawley as Scrooge. It’s a morality play, A Christmas Carol, one that beseeches us to treat each other with basic humanity lest we become the worst versions of ourselves possible. It occurred to me, too, that Marley’s Ghost could have an interesting choice worth exploring: if he is able to convince Ebenezer to be a better person, slowly deconstructing the chains awaiting him one link at a time by one act of kindness at a time, does that mean that Marley’s chain falls apart as well? Could unfinished business mean a shortening of one’s sentence in purgatory? A chance at moving on?

Also, I wondered whether Scrooge could be termed a vampire of sorts, given his long-standing need to take from his employees and society without giving anything back. There is a reference to vampirism in the story, as we would recognize it: “. . . . buried with a stake of holly in his heart . . .” is the penalty Scrooge gives to any man who takes Christmas too seriously. (That’s something else I love about theatre: how the interpretation flexes and gives more to each succeeding generation, teaching us and reminding us what we need to know, though not always when we need to know it.) But back to that vampire theory . . . Marley addresses the parasitic Scrooge (who, by virtue of being a parasite, is rather hypocritical) and gives him the tools for change, thereby bringing him back to humanity. That suggests there is always hope for a vampire to return from the state of being undead.

Or, I could just be reading way too much into it.

This week, I’m wrapping up a performance with the drama club students at my school. I developed a script for them, using pop culture references to retell The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. We’ve got seven performances to do in five locations, and the set and costumes still aren’t complete. I sometimes feel like I should do the majority of the work myself to ensure that it gets done, because although it’s important for young people to accept and learn from the challenge of being assigned a task, when the task is left undone it affects everything else that we’re trying to accomplish. And there’s only one of me, directing and supervising an extracurricular play as well as teaching and parenting and dealing with the holiday. Watching the students interact is a theatre in itself. I am the audience in rehearsal, both while the students are on our makeshift stage, and beforehand, as they’re chatting and eating lunch and negotiating and making friends.

And then they watch each other, while they’re performing, offering each other suggestions. The audience and fellow actors are as much theatre to the cast, who must adjust themselves as they work.

Ugh, this ended up sounding way more like an essay than I wanted it to, but sometimes, that’s just how my brain works.